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ProgBlog goes to the Biennale Architettura 2018 in Venice but still manages to find prog connections - and a relatively new record store...

By ProgBlog, May 8 2018 10:01PM

Until last month, I’d never been to see a Tangerine Dream performance; the closest I’d ever come to witnessing the TD sound was seeing ‘Berlin school’ devotees Node at the Royal College of Music in 2015 (a performance that is just about to be released on CD), and I was also present at the rather intimate premiere of the Edgar Froese/Tangerine Dream film Revolution in Sound, part of the Doc ‘n’ Roll Festival, screened at the Barbican Centre last November.


My appreciation of Tangerine Dream spans back to being introduced to Phaedra (1974) by school friend Alan Lee and I bought 1975’s Rubycon shortly after its release based on the promise of its predecessor. I can’t remember where I first heard Ricochet which was largely recorded at a gig in Croydon’s Fairfield Halls on 23rd October 1975 but I remember not being over-impressed with the next studio release Stratosfear (1976), which I thought made too many concessions towards mainstream rock, including the use of harmonica. I imagine it was becoming ever more difficult to maintain originality and find new things to write in the idiom they’d created but I also think the change in use of the sequencer from pulsed rhythmic intervention to near-rigid substitute electronic drumming had the overall effect of making the group more industry-friendly. I sold my copy of Rubycon some time before I left school in 1978 but regretted it, believing that it remains one of the ultimate albums to listen to in the dark through headphones. I bought a compilation CD From Dawn ‘til Dusk 1973 - 1988 in the early 90s, a CD of Phaedra in 2005 and replaced my Rubycon on CD in 2009 and finally replaced both Phaedra and Rubycon CDs with original vinyl last year; over the last couple of years I’ve bought a second-hand vinyl copy of Ricochet, plus Stratosfear and soundtrack Sorcerer (1977) on CD and I inherited CDs to plug the gap from Encore (1977) to Hyperborea (1983) from friend Neil Jellis as he replaced his original CDs with remasters.



Their brand of electronica was swiftly accepted by the fans of British progressive rock, like myself, who were exposed to the band when Richard Branson signed them to Virgin Records. Though not virtuoso, the application of electronic keyboard-based instrumentation to the thinking of minimalist composers like György Ligeti put them at the forefront of a radical musical movement, with atmospheres created by sonic washes, sequencer pulses and haunting Mellotron, mapping both outer- and inner space.

My favourite line-up is the classic Froese-Franke-Baumann trio, responsible for the early-mid 70’s classics, and who performed in some unusual places for a rock band, like the cathedrals at Reims in France, Liverpool and Coventry. The latter two are modern architectural masterpieces but Reims Cathedral (Notre Dame de Reims) is an 81m high gothic building dating from 1211, lacking in facilities for a crowd of rock fans whose behaviour would lead to TD being banned from ever playing in a Catholic church again. The idea to perform electronic meditations in these sacred places, whether or not you hold religious beliefs, was a stroke of genius because as a layperson with an appreciation of architecture, I find this thoughtful, sometimes reflective and often searching music is somehow very fitting for the space.


The journey from Brescia to the gig at the Union Chapel, Islington, was dictated by the easyJet flight schedule from Verona to Gatwick which fortunately ran on time. There were no disasters at Gatwick’s railway station, or East Croydon or Victoria and I arrived at the venue to join the end of what was one of the biggest queues I’ve seen for a long time (that being for Steven Wilson at The Troxy in March 2015). This queue also contained Neil, who happened to be holding my ticket, and who fortuitously called me before he’d reached the entrance and disappeared inside. The one slight drawback with this rush was the rather stark temperature difference between Italy and the UK; it had been 26oC when I boarded my flight but the evening temperature in London was 14oC. I was wearing a T shirt and had no jacket.


The performances at the Union Chapel invited comparisons with the Reims show, and Bianca Froese-Acquaye suggested, as she introduced the evening’s proceedings, that Edgar would have approved of the setting. I get the feeling that many of the fans did, too, certainly on the night I attended, Monday 23rd April. Froese-Acquaye had been present at the screening of the documentary at the Barbican, where she read an extract about meeting Jimi Hendrix from her husband’s autobiography, Tangerine Dream: Force Majeure which had been published a couple of months before, and held a Q&A session following the film. She had obviously been given instructions that the group should carry on following Edgar’s ‘change of cosmic address’ and the trio with the responsibility for the musical legacy, Thorsten Quaeschning, Ulrich Schnauss and Hoshiko Yamane, proved well qualified to do so, building on the critical acclaim of Quantum Gate (2017). I was a little concerned about the way Edgar Froese was addressed by his widow as she dedicated the performance to ‘our master’; this may have been accidental miscommunication but it did come across as though we were being initiated into some form of cult, with Quaeschning named as Froese’s ‘chosen successor’.



The set list seems to have been comprised mostly from 80’s material, plus a couple of tracks from Quantum Gate: It is Time to Leave When Everyone is Dancing and Roll the Seven Twice, compositions I really wasn’t familiar with but thoroughly enjoyed because it sounded as though each piece had the right balance of instrumentation despite the reliance on midi-triggers and programming; during the mid 80s Froese reworked some of their tracks and added new layers of keyboard, guitar and rhythm, a move regarded by many as detracting from the stark elegance of the originals. One of the songs in the first set reminded me of Phaedra and I wonder if it was part of the 2005 reworking of that album, which featured Quaeschning, especially as a little research suggests that the selection includes more recent, post-Froese reworkings. The second set was more reminiscent of 70’s TD; not only did they play Stratosfear but they also performed an extended improvisation, a Session in TD parlance, like one of the improvised pieces that made up their seminal live albums.



I had thought that the enigmatic Yamane was responsible for very little of the soundscape, as there were lengthy sections where her violin was held by her side, but I’m reliably informed she was responsible for triggering and controlling effects using Ableton Push. There were a few moments where the electronic drums became a little cheesy but the sequencer-driven beats, a trademark of the Berlin School acts, were always imaginative. Some of the projections appeared a little dated, too, though most seemed apt, fitting in with the music and making it difficult to work out whether to watch the band or to watch the lights play over the neo-gothic interior of the chapel. On balance I was probably more impressed with the second set; especially the improvised piece which shifted in unpredictable ways and where the involvement of the whole trio was much more evident.



The whole event was really enjoyable, from the setting to the playing to the music itself. It didn’t matter that my preferred era of the band was one where there was less reliance on continuous sequences and the evolution of the tracks seemed more organic and free-form; I love Froese’s Mellotron work, rating both Aqua (1974) and Epsilon in Malaysian Pale (1975) as Mellotron classics but their adoption and employment of digital technology can’t be faulted, creating multiple layers of sound of uncertain origin that weaved and flowed over the crowd seated on the chapel’s pews. Like Froese before him, Quaeschning picked up a guitar during a couple of pieces but I wasn’t able to attribute a particular sound to the instrument; perhaps everything will become clear when the DVD is released because the entire performance was filmed.



...It was well worth the dash from Brescia to Islington.








By ProgBlog, Jun 20 2017 05:06PM

I’ve been listening to a fair amount of electronica over the last week, including an old favourite from my school days Rubycon and a couple of albums by Redshift, Halo and Ether. The idea was to help me sleep with night temperatures in London in the high teens or even low twenties, treating the music as a relaxant as the compositions seem to develop organically, even when there’s a sequencer beat driving things along. Then on Saturday I managed to drag myself out of a stifling house into the brilliant sunshine and June heat to witness Metamono playing on their home turf, at the Crystal Palace Overground Festival.




I discovered the band by accident, following a trawl through the second-hand records in the basement of Bambino in Upper Norwood and, after a brief discussion about Phaedra by Tangerine Dream, which I was in the process of buying, with Mark Hill who runs the record department, I was given a promotional postcard with his email address: mark@metamono.co.uk. Following this encounter, my subsequent blog was all about Crystal Palace and as part of my research I investigated ‘metamono’, discovering them to be an electronic musical trio formed in 2010 who, in September 2013, featured as The Guardian’s ‘new band of the week’ https://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/sep/06/metamono-new-band-of-day

It was evident to me that Hill knew his electronica from the previous time I’d visited the store. I’d rifled through a box of (largely) Tangerine Dream-related vinyl that hadn’t quite made it downstairs to the record bins, selecting a copy of Edgar Froese’s Aqua and inquiring about the chances of locating Epsilon in Malaysian Pale. Evidently a huge fan of the genre, Hill is actually a fine artist who just coincidentally runs Sound Vinyl in Bambino's basement and plays vintage analogue keyboards (and radio, and Stylophone) with Crystal Palace’s answer to Düsseldorf’s best. The other two members are Jono Podmore and Paul Conboy. Podmore, as Kumo, has collaborated and released albums with Irmin Schmidt of Can; Conboy has worked with Bomb the Bass and is responsible for film soundtracks. What is most intriguing about this collective, something right up my street, is their manifesto. Dutifully read out before Saturday’s performance, they eschew any form of digital sound generation or processing and limit the sound sources available to them to old analogue instruments, found and repaired, to reflect the struggles of society. They believe that music has lost its transformative power, subsumed in a corporatist-capitalist order and use their own music “to kick against the pricks.”

Music journalist David Stubbs has postulated that this musical form, the Krautrock of the 70s, is being referenced by groups who want to branch out in different directions, suggesting that returning to basics and moving on from there is a quicker route to innovation than by simply evolving. This fits in with the Metamono ethic, that “Our limitations will be our aesthetic.”


Whereas found instruments hint at scrap heap recycling, evidently a good thing for the planet, this wasn’t at all like the first time I saw exponents of the genre, admittedly a group more in the Kosmiche or Berlin-school sub genre: Node. My dalliance with appropriating electronica commenced in 1974 or 1975 but I went on to sell Rubycon to a school friend in 1977 or 78 after being underwhelmed by Stratosfear. I’d been intrigued by the appearance of Kraftwerk on the BBC TV’s popular science programme Tomorrow’s World where they appeared to play hotplates with radio aerials and though friends subsequently got into Kraftwerk and Can, they never really pushed the right buttons for me. Consequently, it was only after a reappraisal tinged with a bit of FOMO that my first experience of live electronica came in February 2015 when I attended a performance by analogue synth quartet Node at the Royal College of Music, their first gig for 17 years. I thought the venue was entirely appropriate, affording electronica suitable recognition as a distinct, legitimate musical form but it was the hardware on display, reputedly the largest collection of analogue synthesizers ever seen outside a recording studio and rumoured to be worth around £500,000 which contrasted with Metamono’s recycling chic.



It was pointed out to me that the audience for Node was replete with the great and the good from the UK electronica scene. I don’t know if any of Metamono were present but the working backgrounds of the members of the two groups are very close: music production and film score composition.

Node played four pieces over two sets that lasted 90 minutes; all of which was sequencer driven but which fell into two distinct styles, spacey and industrial. Although I’m not averse to aggressive, percussive sequencer beats I’m more in favour of sequencer as lead instrument, bubbling to the surface, subtly changing over each cycle and giving the impression of drifting, rather than driving.

Node, like Tangerine Dream before them, also used guitar; Dave Bessell performed with a Les Paul strung around his neck which he occasionally lightly strummed. Their overall sound was multilayered and full, with a nicely-balanced live mix in the Amaryllis Fleming concert hall, a dedicated performance space carefully lined with speakers along the length of the room and though I’d describe the ambience as academic, serious or thoughtful, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and on more than one occasion floated away on the dreamy waves of keyboard wash. In contrast, Metamono managed to get a well-balanced mix from a temporary stage in Crystal Palace Park with a 45 minute set filled with fun, joyful music. The sequencers (or did they employ an old rhythm machine?) produced deep dance beats, the pressure waves moving the material on the bass speakers and summoning members of the crowd to their feet to dance in front of the stage. The top line was classic thin late 70s or early 80s synth, filled out with Podmore’s Theremin and some well-place radio transmission, used most effectively on their cover version of Kraftwerk’s Europe Endless, a track they had reworked and released as a single a week before the EU referendum last year as a plea to everyone to vote ‘remain’.


Considering how easily they instilled good vibes in a large crowd and looked as though they were enjoying it too, they have a serious message about not just the music business but about the way our lives are run by vested interests. It seems perfectly fitting that Crystal Palace, the site of the People’s Palace after its season in Hyde Park should produce an inclusive, outward-looking band who play music on found and refurbished instruments, applying a doctrine which seemingly restricts but actually liberates their creativity. Metamono – my band of the week.










By ProgBlog, Jul 24 2016 05:20PM

Last week was the hottest of the year so far and it started very badly. Sometime during the middle part of Monday a sinkhole appeared underneath the railway tracks at Forest Hill, rendering this route and my back-up route, the London Bridge to East Croydon line, unavailable for my journey home.


The staff at Whitechapel Station could have been a bit more helpful, by telling the commuters that the service between New Cross Gate and both Crystal Palace and West Croydon was suspended, for instance; instead, they suggested that passengers should “board this train for West Croydon and Crystal Palace” even though the service was going to Clapham Junction. I asked a woman who had just been making arrangements for someone else to pick up children if there was a problem and she told me about the subsidence. I guessed that London Bridge services might also be affected, though I had no idea how badly until I eventually got home and, having already missed two opportunities to go to Clapham Junction, decided to adopt Plan C.


Unable to concentrate on the Mellotron-drenched Epsilon in Malaysian Pale (Edgar Froese, 1975) because of the requirement to listen to station announcements, I made my way on a relatively empty train to New Cross, but decanted onto a thronging platform to wait for one of the three South Eastern train services per hour to Hayes; the first of which was cancelled because of ‘signal problems’ at London Cannon Street. Since I began commuting by train through South London 38 years ago, there has been woefully inadequate investment in the railways, which despite privatisation continues to suck in taxpayer money through government subsidies to the tune of £3.8bn in 2015. The private train operators then pay out millions of pounds to shareholders while the travelling public have to put up with a fractured and fragmented service dogged by delays, infrastructure failings, cancellations and increasing ticket prices. Needless to say, the state of overcrowding on the train that eventually appeared, late, carrying twice as many commuters as normal, made the scheduled 20 minute journey to Elmers End in 30oC heat deeply unpleasant; it was further delayed by signalling problems at Lewisham and I had to repeat the journey, when it was even hotter, the next day. There’s a simple solution: Renationalise the railways; use public money (or through a re-jigged Green Investment Bank that doesn’t rely on commercial rates) to invest in staff, infrastructure and rolling stock that is fit for purpose; support British engineering. Failure to do so will result in an economy which, like the trains on Monday and Tuesday, is going nowhere.

It was a hot summer forty years ago, too. I had finished my ‘O’ Levels and took part in what can only be described as an epic mountaineering holiday with brother Tony and friends Steve Dickinson, John Ullock and Guy Wimble, camping on mountainsides between Bridge of Orchy and Fort William, bagging Munros. The planning for this event rivalled a Chris Bonnington Everest expedition though our chosen food supplies, Ryvita crackers and Vesta freeze dried meals had to be supplemented by free mountain fare, blueberries, which were accompanied by an attempt to concoct cream from dried milk powder, margarine and water from mountain streams, and a stop for takeaway haggis and chips in Kinlochleven. I was somewhat leaner and fitter at the end of the trip...

1976 was also rock’s ‘Year Zero’, the foundation of Punk in the UK which I first noticed when I started in the Sixth Form in the autumn. School friends were now showing interest in bands spearheading the scene around CBGB in New York and whereas school mates’ bands had only a few months before been plying covers of Focus, Jethro Tull, Wishbone Ash and even Fruupp, a trip to the RAF Club would result in having to listen to attempts at Ramones songs and scrawled in my ‘rough book’, the school exercise book used for making notes, was a picture of a penis with the words ‘Sex Pistols’ along its length; thanks, John Bull. The Sex Pistols had begun to gig in late 1975 (as support to Bazooka Joe at St Martin’s College) but only played cover songs. Even this early on the Pistols’ influence was spreading and by early 1976, a core group of fans that included Siouxsie Sioux, Steven Severin and Billy Idol had coalesced into the so-called Bromley Contingent, brought together by an accident of south London geography, music and fashion, the latter supplied by the Malcolm McLaren – Vivienne Westwood shop SEX. I may not have heard much punk when it first appeared but it was the fashion, specifically the appropriation of Nazi symbolism which really inflamed my dislike of the genre, rather than a musical form that was the antithesis of prog: short; simple; simplistic.

So what was prog doing at the time? The premier league of prog bands were on hiatus, effectively exiled by what their accountants would have told them was a punitive tax regime. Yes and ELP were huge acts, though even less commercially successful bands like Gentle Giant set up recording sessions outside of the UK to minimise how much of their cash went to the exchequer. The highest rate of income tax throughout the 50s and 60s was 90% but this was reduced by the Conservative administration to 75% in 1971. When the Labour government took over in 1974, the top rate of income tax was increased to 83% but the surcharge on investment tax took the top rate on investment income up to 98% and these rates applied to incomes over £20000 per year, affecting 750000 people, including some major prog bands. The absence from home turf for prolonged periods (there was an allowance for so many days residence without triggering the tax) deprived the music journals of prog-related copy and coverage of new bands, who wished to be seen to eschew the perceived overblown and self-indulgent nature of progressive rock, was fed by a new generation of journalists armed with sociology degrees who regarded prog as elitist. The Stranglers were already gigging in spring 1976 and The Damned were formed sometime around the middle of the year, famous for being the first UK punk band to release a single. Captain Sensible, born Raymond Burns, lived in Edith Road SE25, the location of my first flat as an owner-occupier. There’s a rumour that if it wasn’t the same property, it was next door to the Burns’ home.


It’s often been commented on that many original punks were into prog. The Damned had evolved from jazz improvisation; Johnny Rotten is often cited for his appreciation of Van der Graaf Generator after being invited to play his own records on a Tommy Vance show on Capital Radio in July 1977; He played some Can, The Blimp by Captain Beefheart, Fleance from the Polanski film soundtrack The Tragedy of Macbeth by Third Ear Band and The Institute of Mental Health (Burning) plus Nobody’s Business from Peter Hammill’s 1975 solo album Nadir’s Big Chance. Rotten also accused David Bowie (he played Bowie’s Rebel Rebel) of copying Hammill’s moves!

Punk didn’t really last very long and, apart from the legacy of bands like The Clash, the punk ethos became swiftly diluted, revealing itself to be nothing but an expression of fashion in the broadest sense. The snarling bands like the Sex Pistols, put together to generate outrage, burned with a very brief flame. Bromley Contingent leader Siouxse quickly branched into proto-Goth; Billy Idol dabbled in proto-Goth, too, and appeared to be obsessed with his own image. Were The Stranglers really punk in the first place? I’m disappointed to have missed them when they played Maxim’s in Barrow in March 1977 but I have a confession: I’ve seen The Undertones twice. Once at a free concert in Brussels in August 1980 and in 1983, supporting Peter Gabriel at Selhurst Park. Manchester-based Buzzcocks were always just a clever pop band and are now reaping in cash from What do I Get? being used in an advert for McDonalds. This is hardly punk-principle. It appears that every musician has to continue to make a living somehow...






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